Blue Note Records featured some of the most iconic, stylish, and memorable record sleeves of all-time. Art Director Reid Miles and photographer Francis Wolff Jr created artwork that raised the bar on album cover design and helped repackage Jazz for a new generation of listeners. While much of the music recorded on Blue Note is quite good, it often isn’t quite as great as the wrapper it comes in. Here, however, are 12 Blue Note albums that are fit to be judged by their covers:
Cannonball Adderley * Somethin’ Else
dk says: Adderley’s finest hour includes Miles Davis’ only career appearance as a side man.
allmusic.com says: “This is a group that could take on a Barry Manilow number and turn it into a jazz masterpiece.”
John Coltrane * Blue Train
dk says: Forget the squonking Coltrane you think you know – his only album for Blue Note is a fully melodic piece of work that will leave you tapping your toes.
allmusic.com says: “Without reservation, Blue Train can easily be considered in and among the most important and influential entries not only of John Coltrane’s career, but of the entire genre of jazz music as well.”
Hank Mobley * A Caddy For Daddy
dk says: Yet another in a long line of great albums from the underappreciated Mobley, A Caddy For Daddy features an all-star ensemble that included Lee Morgan on trumpet, McCoy Tyner on piano, and Billy Higgins on drums.
allmusic.com says: “A distinctive but not dominant soloist, Mobley was also a very talented writer whose compositions avoided the predictable, yet could often be quite melodic and soulful…”
Lee Morgan * The Sidewinder
dk says: This album was the biggest hit of Morgan’s short career, and the title track – a jazz/funk hybrid of the highest order – might be the single most recognizable number in the Blue Note archives.
allmusic.com says: “The group works together seamlessly to create an album that crackles with energy while maintaining a stylish flow.”
Grant Green * Idle Moments
dk says: One of the few Jazz guitarists who doesn’t sound like he’s making music for an elevator, Green and his band seductively swing and sway through a particularly solid set.
allmusic.com says: “This languid, seductive gem may well be Grant Green’s greatest moment on record.”
Larry Young * Unity
dk says: Young later played on Bitches Brew, and the way his organ dances around these exploded melodies makes it perfectly clear that he was eminently qualified for that gig.
allmusic.com says: “On his sophomore date as a leader, jazz organist Larry Young began to display some of the angular drive that made him a natural for the jazz-rock explosion to come barely four years later.”
Sonny Clark * Cool Struttin’
dk says: A personal favorite of the P, this 1958 classic features a killer band, and may be the best of Clark’s too-short life.
allmusic.com says: “This set deserves its reputation for its soul appeal alone.”
JJ Johnson * The Eminent JJJ – Vol 1
dk says: Johnson played his slide trombone with the mentality of a trumpet or sax player, attacking his material with vigor and imagination. The two volumes of The Eminent JJJ are perhaps the finest releases in the history of the label.
allmusic.com says: “The six titles (plus three alternates) are highlighted by ‘It Could Happen to You,’ ‘Turnpike’ and a classic rendition of ‘Get Happy.'”
Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers * A Night In Tunisia
dk says: Not to be confused with the 1957 set of nearly the same name, this 1960 album featured Lee Morgan, Wayne Shorter, and Bobby Timmons in one of the strongest versions of Blakey’s ever-rotating Jazz Messengers.
allmusic.com says: “The lengthy title track on this CD easily overshadows the rest of the program for it is one of the most exciting versions ever recorded of Dizzy Gillespie’s ‘A Night in Tunisia.'”
Blue Mitchell * Boss Horn
dk says: Mitchell wasn’t as recognized as Blue Note trumpeters like Lee Morgan, Freddie Hubbard, or even Kenny Dorham, but his straight-ahead style has helped his sound age just as well as – if not better than – his more celebrated peers.
allmusic.com says: “Trumpeter Blue Mitchell delivers a solid hard bop date with his 1966 Blue Note release Boss Horn.”
Dexter Gordon * Doin’ Allright
dk says: Gordon – one of the most accomplished tenor saxophonists of all-time – played with a warm tone that stirs the blood. On Doin’ Allright, he proves that a tender embrace holds as much power as a tropical storm.
allmusic.com says: “The title of this Blue Note set, Doin’ Allright, fit perfectly at the time, for tenor saxophonist Dexter Gordon was making the first of three successful comebacks.”
Clifford Brown * Memorial Album
dk says: Brown’s death by car accident at age 25 is one of the most tragic events in the history of Jazz. This compilation of sides he recorded for Blue Note preserves his legacy in amber, and will leave you wondering what might have been.
allmusic.com says: “Casual listeners would be better off starting out with some of Brown’s recordings with Max Roach; nonetheless, seasoned fans will find that this CD is a treasure chest.”